Welcome to Virtual Counseling Part II: Email/Online Counseling. Email is an extremely common way of communicating messages. In 2010, an estimated 294 billion emails were sent daily. Out of this 294 billion, an estimated 1.9 billion of these actual emails were non-spam related. Wow! With that amount of communication, the idea of virtual counseling via email makes sense in order to send our messages or assist our clients with their goals and needs.
NutritionJobs virtually interviewed (via email) two extremely savvy Registered Dietitians, RD, who practice email/online counseling. They provided some fantastic tips on the benefits and drawbacks of email counseling.
Take a look at some of the benefits:
Convenience. Rebecca Bitzer, MS, RD, owner of Rebecca Bitzer& Associates, the largest nutrition practice in Maryland, explained how email allows both RD and client to conveniently interact without having to commute to an office, which can save time and money in travel/parking. Molly Kellogg, MS, RD, LCSW, author of Counseling Tips for Nutrition Therapists: Practice Workbook Series, also agreed and added that location does not matter so that even if a client moves, one can still communicate via email and assist.
Cost Reduction.If no office is necessary, no suit/tie uniform, and no paperwork needed, the practitioner can charge less money to the clients since there is minimal overhead cost, stated Kellogg. In addition, handouts can be sent electronically, assisting with the environmental “green” factor.
Staying Connected. Bitzer wrote, “email is open 24/7 so the client can email the RD anytime a question arises or anytime a stressful situation arises and get feedback”. Bitzer continued to inform that sometimes the client may just need a little pep talk to encourage success.
Email/online counseling can have its drawbacks. Take a look:
Lost in Translation. A simple typo (especially with auto-correct) can change the entire message of an email, noted Bitzer. Therefore, it’s important to read the messages before clicking “send” and make sure the message is precise and correctly written.
Non-verbal cues are MIA. Without vocal tone, facial expression, or body language, understanding the message between the lines may be difficult to read. A written joke or a sarcastic statement could be misinterpreted as being rude or inconsiderate. Email communication is more cut-and-dry with minimal emotion. Therefore, efficient communication is necessary to get the main message across.
Insurance Coverage and Length of Time are Questionable. According to Kellogg, many insurance companies may not cover email counseling. Also, the time the RD spends on answering questions and providing the email counseling tips could add up quickly. To solve this, check with your insurance companies first to see what their perimeters are with virtual counseling. Also, establish set guidelines for email interaction by allocating specific lengths of time for the questions and how many questions/emails can be sent per paid session. Including the email option guidelines in your contract with your clients is important so that both RD and client knows what can be expected with the paid dollar amount.
Of note, be sure to check with your professional association and professional liability insurance about the legalities of counseling via email.
Make sure to check out last month’s article, Virtual Counseling Part I: Phone Counseling. Also, stay tuned next month for Part III of this three part series: Skype/Webinar Counseling.